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Sun, HP push rival Java technologies

Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems both are moving ahead in the battle for Java in handheld computers and other embedded devices.

Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems both are moving ahead in the battle for Java in handheld computers and other embedded devices.

HP executives said the company will announce the newest version of its Chai virtual machine tomorrow, a clone of Sun's Java, along with technology called FreezeDry that shrinks the size of the Java programs that run in the machine.

A virtual machine is the part of the software that allows code to run on a particular hardware and operating system. It's an essential element to enabling the universality of Java, but companies pay the penalties of diminished performance and increased memory requirements to use it.

Sun is set to announce version 1.1 of its Jini "spontaneous networking" technology, a layer of Java software that allows devices to assemble themselves into a network of services. Sun unveiled Jini 1.0 in January but will open a version of the Jini 1.1 specification up to public scrutiny "soon," a Sun source familiar with the plans said yesterday. The company this week is also expected to debut Java 2 Enterprise Edition, the next phase in Sun's effort to make its Java technology all things to all people. (See related story.)

HP will exhibit the new Chai technology at Sun's JavaOne conference, which begins tomorrow in San Francisco, said Byron Ryono, director of marketing for HP's embedded software operation.

HP and Sun are allies when it comes to running Java programs on heavy-duty back-end servers. But in the "embedded" computing world of personal smart phones, car navigation systems, or factory-floor robots, the two companies are at odds. HP refuses to abide by Sun's licensing provisions and says Sun is too dominant in controlling Java, and Sun accuses HP of fragmenting Java and therefore undermining its "write once, run anywhere" universality.

Another of HP's complaints is that Sun's Java technology is too large for the memory-constrained world of embedded devices. Its new ChaiVM is less than 250 kilobytes in size, a notch smaller than the previous 300K version of ChaiVM and Sun's 500K EmbeddedJava virtual machine, Ryono said.

The FreezeDry technology isn't part of the Chai virtual machine itself but will at least halve the amount of memory Java programs need to run, Ryono said. If a company has a Java program "destined for two devices, one that has FreezeDry and one that does not, the code [for] our device can be half the size or better," he said.

FreezeDry therefore allows a company to either pack more capability into its software or reduce the cost, size, and battery consumption of the device, said Ryono and William Woo, director of research and development for HP's embedded software operation.

HP has a patent pending for its FreezeDry technology, Ryono said.

FreezeDry has two components: one that "concentrates" Java programs as they run and another that "prunes" unneeded Java software libraries beforehand. The pruning technology in Chai resembles Sun's EmbeddedJava, which strips away some Java components to cut it down to a minimum size in devices designed only to accomplish specific tasks.

Siemens will use Chai in a product called Sicomp, a factory-floor robot controller, Ryono said. The devices will be demonstrated at JavaOne, he said.

Others working on prototypes using Chai include consumer electronics maker Thomson Multimedia, electronics giant Hitachi, factory-floor equipment maker Yokogawa Electric, and train and transportation software maker Omron, Ryono said.

ChaiVM also adds support for applets--the small Java programs that run in Web browsers--as well as Sun's Remote Method Invocation (RMI) technology, Ryono said.

ChaiVM 3.0 will be available tomorrow, but the FreezeDry technology won't show up until late 1999, Ryono said.